January 20, 2002

Washington, DC

Present: A. Brecher, W. Brinkman, R. Cahn, D. Cox, C. Davis, W. Edelstein, P. Eisenberger, W. Evenson, W. Frazer, M. Goldman, L. Gronlund, F. Lamb, D. Mattis, J. Primack, H. Quinn, M. Sarachik, L. Schwartz, J. Tsang. A. Bienenstock joined the meeting by phone.

Absent: J. Ahearne, S. Berry, F. Capasso, A. Herzog, L. Krauss, M. Riordan, I. Schuller.

Guest: Stephen Younger, (Director, Defense Threat Reduction Agency), William Colglazier (Executive Officer, National Research Council), Donald Kerr (Deputy Director for S&T, C.I.A.)

APS Staff: J. Franz, S. Ginsberg, M. Lubell, S. Pierson, F. Slakey, D. Victoria


  • April 7, 2002
  • October 6, 2002

Frazer called the meeting to order at 8:30 AM. He introduced the new POPA members. Minutes were approved with minor changes.

Announcements: Frazer reported on a letter from David Bodansky asking the committee to get involved on the issue of Yucca Mountain. He also conveyed the question from some members on the possibility of POPA getting involved in the issue of fuel cells. To avoid confusion on the subject, Frazer reviewed the different materials that are posted on the web. Those are POPA large studies that need Council approval, more informal smaller studies that may become POPA reports, and occasional papers by POPA members, posted on the web in order to foster discussion within the physics community. Lamb informed the committee that the last meeting for the NMD study will take place by the end of January.

Conflict of interest policy: Tsang brought to discussion the need for an APS conflict of interest policy for APS actions and reports. It was suggested that the background of authors be displayed up front in papers and reports; and that an APS statement on the subject be issued.

Action: A motion passed unanimously to assign the matter to the Ethics Committee.

Report on PPC meeting: The APS Executive Board asked PPC and POPA to look into the issue of homeland security, and what physicists could contribute to the fight against terrorism. Brinkman reported on the December 2001 PPC meeting. After the discussion, he said, the committee agreed on some actions that can be taken, such as identifying S&T that are important in combating terrorism; encourage interaction with Muslin physicists; have invited talk in APS meetings (one is being put together for a session at the APS March meeting).

Action: A task force, formed by PPC and POPA members, will be put together to analyze the topic of physicists' contributions to homeland security.

Younger gave an overview of terrorist attacks, which are not over, he said, characterizing them as attacks to the American culture. Some of the things that can be done, he said, is to do in-site inspections, eliminate arms in Ukrania and Russia (?), chemical and biological threats reduction, develop new technology to modify the vulnerability of buildings. There is not enough detection technology, and it is done mainly by private companies. It is imperative to learn and understand other cultures; to broad education to understand why terrorists are doing what they are doing Psychologists, for example, are analyzing the phenomenon of violence. Also, it is necessary to reconstruct relationships between the Department of Defense and universities. On the subject of weapons of mass destruction, there are three important areas: threats, bio weapons, and future weapons. Chemical and biological defense is design for low energy distribution. The role of nuclear weapons is changing; location is now more important that the weapon itself. Now, nuclear weapons that are not of mass destruction can be used. Younger considers that technology can help, but it will not save the country.

Colglaizier talked about National Academies of Science’s science and technology agenda for countering terrorism, aimed to help OSTP and the federal government in determining what can be done to increase homeland security. Phase 1 of this project will be released in May, and the second phase will be a report released on 9/11/02. The report will outline strategies to combat terrorism, and assess the vulnerability of key infrastructures. Among others, NAS activities are to promote international collaboration to reduce threats and long term causes of terrorism, to implement public health initiatives, such as the terrorist threat of infectious deceases, vaccines development, to prevent and respond to terrorist attacks to food supplies, and to evaluate aviation security. Colglazier emphasized the need for NAS to contact Islamic physicists, even if other institutions are working on the same issue. On the question of what interaction is there between the Academies and Congress, Colglazier said that NAS is not pushing any particular legislation, but rather informs Congress on a needed basis.

Kerr is working on counter terrorism, specifically on detecting activities, anticipating world leadership’s intentions, forecasting any irregularities, and stopping them when possible. His office provides principal technical staff to the National Recognizance Office, Development and Engineering office, where physicists play an important role. Physicists also perform an important function in the Foreign Broadcast Information Bureau, scanning mass media communication systems around the world, including the Internet. The Administration and Congress made it very clear that miscommunication among agencies collecting information should end. FBI, NSA, CIA are working together to collect, integrate, and analyze information. Homeland security begins abroad, Kerr said, because the threat of terrorism consistently comes for outside the US. Electronic surveillance is critical in detecting these activities, but it can affect the sensitive issue of privacy. There is a movement to bring legislation that would layout the limits. If the threat comes from abroad, Kerr said, the level of electronic surveillance may be pushed to the limit, while in domestic threats there is a more restricted surveillance. Homeland security also requires collecting and organizing information that would help understand, for example, the evolution of the nuclear program in Pakistan. A great number of private companies, such as IBM and Boeing, have volunteered their services. Kerr talked about a venture capital firm, a tax-payers financed venture plan, with a capital of 50 million dollars, that allows government agencies to have access to new technology before it comes to the private sector market.

Outreach to physicists in Islamic countries: Learch described the SESAME program. In 1998, the European scientific community, along with the US, organized a project to promote the development of a synchrotron facility in the Middle East, which will be a regional center for collaboration on a variety of areas in the physics sciences. Herwig Schopper, the former director of CERN, organized the international council that would pursue this effort, and convinced the German government to disassemble the BESSY, a third generation synchrotron source. Subsequently, an interim council was designated to secure funds to install and operate a facility in Jordan; to organize a membership council which would eventually run it, and to move and reinstall the synchrotron source at the new facility. Thirteen countries agreed to participate in this project. The interim council has requested now some level of commitment from the US. To build up relationships with scientists in the Middle East, it was suggested that Islamic physicists within the APS, particularly Europeans, contacted scientists in Islamic countries to establish programs in common and mutual visits. It was pointed out also that APS should advocate for a portion of the aid given to Middle East countries to be destined to education.

Action: An ad hoc committee will be formed to work on the issue. CISA will be invited to participate in the discussions.

Washington Report: FY03 budget. The Administration has made it very clear that they will run the government under a business model. The purpose is to identify the programs that are more successful and eliminate those who are not. The government is operating in a deficit mode. Mitch Daniels has repeated a number of times that the budget will be cut in areas that are not central to the Administration’ goals. Although it recognizes the importance of science, the Administration is concerned only with defense, counter terrorism and energy independence, and Daniels will try to fight the congressional appropriations. OMB is busy now with FY03 and has not set any standards for basic science on FY04. The Office of Science is very well accepted, but it is not clear how much support will Congress give when they are back on deficit spending.

Slakey recapped the issues the APS Public Affair office is working on. In nuclear posture recent review, the Administration has indicated its intention of resuming nuclear testing in about a year, if feasible, and to possibly look into a new kind of nuclear weapons, the micro nukes. A national intelligence estimate says that a intercontinental ballistic missile threat is not a priority, fact that will force to reexamine the debate in Congress on missile defense. Depending on the funds allocated to national defense, some of the funds designated for missile defense may be spent in other areas of national security.

POPA in 2002:

Tsang summarized the configuration of the POPA sub-committees, and the possible issues each committee could work on. Some of the issues mentioned were Yucca Mountain, cell fuel, space debris, plutonium recycling.

Goldman summarized the activity of the Physics and the Public committee. The committee has been working on web resources for courses for non-scientists. The courses will incorporate five major issues: how science works, pseudoscience or objectivity; energy and the environment; science, government and the public; and risk assessment. The goal is to create a web site that will summarize guidelines, and promote public education in science. POPA members will later have access to the site for evaluation. Bienenstock described talks that he and others gave to the health community, connecting the physical sciences to other disciplines

Action: By unanimous vote, Lamb and Gronlund were chosen as members of the steering committee. Members will email Tsang their choices on subcommittees they want to participate on. Tsang will in turn email the subcommittees’ membership, and make suggestions on the issues that each committee could work on.

The meeting was adjourned at 3:00 PM.